SECRETS OF THE ROM COM: SERIOUSLY
Romantic comedies that really work are not fluffy meaningless movies, argue
Michael Hauge and Steve Kaplan, on the eve of their Australian seminar tour. A
working idea of the building blocks and comedy essentials can help Australian
writers compete with the best in the world – and make big hits. Andrew L. Urban
He loves movies that appear to be light entertainment but are deep down
meaningful explorations of the human condition, says Michael Hauge. He’s about
to leave his Los Angeles office at the end of a work day Tuesday, as he plans
his upcoming trip to Australia with his colleague Steve Kaplan, to workshop the
ideas that make romantic comedies work successfully. And any writer can do it.
“Absolutely … if you’re committed to it, you can write it.
“If you take the 20 most popular romcoms,” he says, “they will have at least 10
qualities in common, yet not any two will be identical.” This is in response to
a question about ‘templating’ romcoms; is their seminar a cookie cutter plant?
No, says Hauge, “I’ve never had a sense of creating a template that restricts
individual writing. The characters, the situations, the plot … they are always
"an exclusive weekend master class"
For the first time together in Australia, Michael Hauge and Steve Kaplan, two
of Hollywood's most acclaimed scriptwriting instructors, will share the stage in
presenting an exclusive weekend master class entitled 'The Art of Romantic
But this is no me-too double act where the two agree on everything. “We don’t
see eye to eye on everything,” says Steve Kaplan. “Michael is an expert in film
structure and how to put films together. My expertise is comedy and I don’t
always agree with him.”
On the first day of the two day seminar, says Kaplan, “Michael talks about
structure and the rules … then I come along and talk about comedy, and what
works … and what things AREN’T funny and why.”
Kaplan says poor romcoms show “stupid people doing stupid things for no reason
and then end up in bed. I focus on what it is inside a scene that helps it to be
comedic – and what stops it.”
The workshops deal in generalities but also in specifics, with clips to
illustrate. Writers enrolled can expect to see and dissect clips from films like
40 Year Old Virgin and The Wedding Crashers. “Michael tends to show clips from
films that work …. I show clips where it doesn’t work, and then we deconstruct
the scenes.” A new clip in Steve Kaplan’s presentation is from Dan in Real Life,
“as an example of what not to write.”
Of the handful of films to win Oscars in all five major categories - actor,
actress, director, picture and screenplay - the first to win all of the awards
was Frank Capra’s 1934 romantic comedy It Happened One Night.
Since When Harry Met Sally was released in 1990, romantic comedies have
consistently grossed over $100 million dollars every year. It’s a good example
of film that is based on dramatic material. “The film begins with the funeral of
his wife… this isn’t comedic,” says Hauge. He says writers attending these
seminars will be able to take away the particular principles, the guidelines,
that enable them to write a strong romcom.
"Romantic comedy can claim some of the most talented
and original writers of our time"
“Far from being a lightweight genre that is quickly written, filmed and
forgotten,” says Rashelle McHugh of Epiphany International, which is organising
the seminars. “Romantic comedy can claim some of the most talented and original
writers of our time, including Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, the Farrelly
Brothers and Charlie Kaufman. The films these prodigious talents have produced
within this genre have elevated expectations, and could even be considered
cinema art. Romantic comedy is a genre much overlooked by screenwriters in
Australia despite it being one of the best ways to advance your screenwriting
“The Australian classic Strictly Ballroom is one of the few local examples and
it went on to achieve worldwide acclaim and an international audience. The
masters of the genre can show how to write a fantastic romcom - and get it
noticed by the people that matter.”
Recently Kaplan was sent a copy of the Australian comedy hit, The Castle. “I
love The Castle,” he says, and you don’t need to know a thing about Australia to
enjoy it. A comedy is as tied to emotional truth as any drama. The best comedies
are deeply entrenched in emotional truth. Audiences must believe the reality of
what’s on screen.”
"a good, fun experience"
Hague says he is expecting the seminars to be a good, fun experience and
enable writers to decide “if romcom is what they want to write.” But nobody is
saying it’s easy.
Published April 22, 2010
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The Art of Romantic Comedy: Two Day Seminar
Sydney: June 19 & 20, 2010 Atrium Theatre, Australian Technology Park
Melbourne: June 26 & 27, 2010 Melbourne Conference & Exhibition Centre
For booking details please call 02 9572 7222 or visit the website